Fred W. Smith of Reynolds Foundation Has Died

by May 2, 2018

Photo courtesy of the Cronkite School.

Fred W. Smith, chairman of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, was a tough, focused newsman of integrity who led the awarding of some $1.8 billion in philanthropic grants over the last 20 years with a sharp eye toward financial transparency and end results.

Smith, who passed away at age 84 late Sunday evening in Santa Monica, Calif., had among his multitude of achievements the funding of our Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism with the lofty goal of improving the quality of business journalism through training.

When I accepted a three-year position to launch the Reynolds Center in 2003, I had no idea that this worthy idea through a series of generous grants and endowments would still keep me connected in 2018 as President of the Center and the Endowed Chair in Business Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

A big reason I stuck around was no-nonsense Fred, his preference for precise line-item budgets and his crystal-clear expectations that reflected the thoughts of the late Donald W. Reynolds himself. Reynolds passed away at the age of 86 in 1993 and left proceeds from the sale of his Donrey Media Group of newspapers and broadcast stations to form a foundation that would give out grants to worthy causes until it closed its doors before 2022. It beat that deadline, closing its doors late last year.

“You know, those Reynolds Foundation people really expect you to do exactly what you say you’ll do,” a non-profit executive warned me as I had started in the new position.

I thought to myself, “Well, isn’t what we’re supposed to do?”

Fred, along with President Steve Anderson, really read financial proposals, dove into financial statements and gave blunt opinions about new ideas being presented. They had to be reasoned and do some good. This intense scrutiny stemmed from his skills gained during a prior 43 years with Donrey Media, where he became the chair and chief operating officer.

His pinpoint timing of meetings, events, visits and travel kept him on course. When Fred tapped on his wristwatch with his index finger, everyone knew it was time to move on. You always knew where you stood with Fred. This straightforward manner reminded me of some of my best — albeit tough — bosses and even some of my own relatives. Fred could enjoy himself, but when it came to money he was all business. He often said it was much easier making money than giving it away.

Aware that business journalism appealed to the late Don Reynolds, Fred liked the idea of training for it from the start. The Reynolds Center has come to include the BusinessJournalism.org site, the Barlett & Steele Awards for Investigative Business Journalism, the Reynolds Chair in Business Journalism, the Reynolds Business Reporting Bureau and training workshops around the country, all headquartered at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School. There are business journalism chairs at four universities including the Cronkite School. Besides the Center, the Reynolds Foundation has been generous to our Cronkite School.

There has been a great deal more to the foundation’s funding projects, including Don Reynolds’ alma mater University of Missouri and the University of Arkansas in his native state, as well as University of Nevada-Reno where he spent his later years. There are many grant projects spread over numerous states, including concert halls and sports stadiums. Last week at the SABEW conference in Washington, D.C., several attendees were raving about how wonderful they had found the Reynolds Portraiture Gallery at the Smithsonian that they had visited the day before.

But from my personal vantage point, observing the Reynolds Center’s accomplishments and outreach continue to make a difference, it’s a great feeling knowing that no-nonsense Fred W. Smith’s intense eye had been behind every cent that made all this possible. How many leaders of billions of dollars in funds can claim that these days?

Our sincere thoughts and condolences are with the Smith family and Fred’s wife Maria at this difficult time.

Andrew Leckey is the founding director of the Reynolds Center and the Reynolds Endowed Chair in Business Journalism at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School.